(CN) – In a pivotal scene of Mary Shelley’s “Frankenstein,” the doctor opts to scrap the creation of a mate for his Creature. Had he gone a different route, humankind might have been extinct within 4,000 years.
Dartmouth College researchers say the fictional scientist Victor Frankenstein from Mary Shelley’s 1818 novel “Frankenstein” recognized the concept of competitive exclusion, more than 100 years before it was formally introduced in the 1930s.
Using a mathematical model based on human population densities in 1816, the Dartmouth researchers show that the competitive advantages held by the offspring of the Creature and his theoretical bride would lead to significant damage that would vary based on where they settled.
If the creatures had traveled to South America — as the Creature suggests in the novel — mankind could have gone extinct in as few 4,000 years given the small human population and subsequent lack of competition for resources, according to the study.
After deciding to create a female companion for the Creature, Frankenstein realizes the dangers of their mating and its impact on humankind, ultimately destroying the half-finished female creature.
The team included clues from the novel and demonstrated how Frankenstein’s fear of the creatures’ potential mating, which he debated for much of the book, was well-founded based on the principles of competitive exclusion.
Their study was published Oct. 28 in the journal Bioscience.
“To date, most scholars have focused on Mary Shelley’s knowledge of then-prevailing views on alchemy, physiology and resurrection; however, the genius of Mary Shelley lies in how she combined and repackaged existing scientific debates to invent the genre of science fiction,” said study co-author Justin D. Yeakel.
“Our study adds to Mary Shelley’s legacy, by showing that her science fiction accurately anticipated fundamental concepts in ecology and evolution by many decades.”
The researchers say their study of “Frankenstein” has real-world implications for how scientists understand the biology of invasive species.
Shelley’s “Frankenstein” is widely regarded as the first work of science fiction to tackle the destructive consequences of scientific and moral wrongs.
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